Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Crowdsourcing Concertos

Over the years, I've encountered many instances of online crowdsourcing - from encyclopedias, books, news, reviews, t-shirts, design, videos, software, mapping, government, business plans, and inventions. But I had not heard of a crowdsourced symphony before.

That is until a friend at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) told me about a new project they sponsored with Tod Machover, a music composer and professor at MIT Media Lab. They wanted to create a symphony not only about Toronto but by Torontonians. The music director of the TSO, Peter Oundjian, describes the motivation for this project:
We live in a great hub of creativity, diversity and innovation, and this is the right time to reflect the endless colours and sounds of the city through orchestral instruments.
To capture the many facets and soundscapes of the city, Machover used many methods - on and offline. Collaboration was done via blog, email, Skype, web applications, audio streaming, smartphones, and face-to-face sessions. Machover also traversed the city and recorded various characteristics sounds of the city.

What makes the project even more incredible though is tools Machover and MIT Media Lab built to facilitate online participatory music composition.

My music education ended after grade 7 and 8 when a dour, dull music teacher that had the class spend two years focusing on pitch-perfect singing and nothing else. So I never had the opportunity - or desire (thanks to that teacher) - to make or create music.

That is until today, when I tried the online tools that were created for this project. Through web-based interactive tools, called Media Scores and Constellation, users can work with existing or original sounds and tracks and play around with them through visual methods to create their own mini-compositions. Users can then upload them for Machover to listen to and incorporate into the final symphony.

The tools are still online for people to use - so start composing. It's really fun!

Here's more info, from the TSO's website, on the tools MIT created for this project:
  • Media Sores – will allow you to help complete the Finale section ("Toronto Dances") of the piece, contribute to the accompaniment "texture" of the work’s virtuosic "City Soaring movement, and experiment with other sections of the composition to build your own unique blend and personalized musical narrative.
  • Constellation - uses composed and collected sounds and lets you mix them into your own collages, textures and pieces, just by experimenting with moving the mouse and combining these things.
  • City Soaring - literally lets you paint the quality of a melody. Grab one of the four "brush" icons in the top right-hand corner of the app window – weight, complexity, texture and intensity – and paint over the line with it. You'll immediately see the change in color and texture and will hear the changes when you play back the melody.
Machover comments on this novel process and the final results:
The idea of collaborating with Torontonians to create a symphony interested me both because I thought it would lead to a diverse and timely musical portrait of this wonderful city, and also because I felt that it would propose a new model for people with diverse musical backgrounds and experience to work together towards a common goal. We embarked on an adventure that has led me to new sounds, new friendships, new discoveries about Toronto, and new ideas about musical storytelling.  When I started the project, my hope was to convey how the incredible diversity of Toronto is wrapped in a beautiful and unified connectivity. Having just finished the piece, I think we have achieved that and I can’t wait to share it with Toronto.
The premier performance of the work, A Toronto Symphony: Concerto for Composer and City, is Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 8:00 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.  I bought my tickets today and tickets are still available.

If you can't attend the performance and you're in Toronto, you can view a customized light show on the CN Tower, which will be synced to the music.

For more about this project and Machover's work, visit the TSO's website or read an article from Toronto Life.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Defeating the Apps First Approach to Tablet Interface

Despite a recent CBC study which found that 82% of Canadians mostly use tablets at home, I still consider tablets a mobile device and thus under my purview.  I also take an avid interest in Canadian innovations in digital media. So I was really excited to attend a talk last week by James Wu of Kobo on "Rethinking Tablet User Experience".

Kobo is a world-leader in e-readers. They are no longer owned by Canadians, but are still based in Toronto. The event was sponsored by ToRCHI, a leading organization for organizing events of interest to people working in or studying Canada's digital media.

It's been awhile since I have actively designed digital user interfaces, but when I did I found it a constant struggle (against many forces) to put the user's needs and their perspective first. James Wu, director of user experience at Kobo, opened his talk by addressing this point head on - "technology sucks for most people". Technology should not be the focus of design. Instead, Wu explained, technology should be out of the way and let people quickly and easily perform the task or access the content they want.

Yet, the standard interface of tablets (and I'd add smartphones) is the app. This dominant tablet user experience paradigm "is defined by facilitating a user’s navigation into, out of and between apps". When Wu asked tablet users, however, what they value most about their device it wasn't the apps. It was content. Thus tablet user interfaces "are always at least one step removed from what users want". Wu adds that is apps that define how and where users can access and organize their content rather than the users themselves.

"The focus on apps has taken us away from what apps do for us" Wu empathetically cautioned.

To redress this situation, Wu and Kobo embarked on a new project with the launch of the Kobo Arc e-reader and its Tapestries interface (here's a review).

To achieve this, Wu identified three main goals:
  1. Focus on users' content
  2. Support organic curation
  3. Help users find more content
The Tapestries interface builds upon advances in visual bookmarking (such as Pinterest) and recommendation engines. Tapestries allows one to "pin" content (whether e-books, websites, songs, movies, etc.) to one's homepage. Users can organize their content in collections ("tapestries") in various ways, for example by media type or topic. The best way to get a sense of it, however, is to see a demo, as Wu does below via YouTube (the part about Tapestries starts at the 50 second mark).

Based on above-mentioned goals, here's what Tapestries achieves:

Focus on User's Content
Wu aptly noted that people (other than perhaps the attendees at the talk or readers of this blog) do not care about the movie player on their devices. Rather they care about watching their movies. Moreover, they don't want to have to care (or even think about) the movie player. So it's important to "put content at users' fingertips" metaphorically and literally. Wu noted that even in such content as email or Facebook which are incredibly personal, every user has the same icon on their device homepage - but it doesn't have to be this way.

Support Organic Curation
Tablet apps force organization by media type or date, rather than by activity (e.g. a vacation), topic, or other parameters. Wu asserts "let people organize content how they want to and maintain personal relevance".

Help Users Find More Content
The "Discover" feature of Tapestries engendered a lot of interest with the ToRCHI crowd.  To me, the Discover bar seemed much like recommendation engines on book websites that offer recommendations for content based on other people with similar interests histories or one's personal profile or viewing history. Discover, differentiates itself by allowing users some control in the content that is suggested to them.

User-centred Design
Wu also discussed the benefits and challenges of user-centred design. Before starting the Tapestries project, Wu conducted formal and informal research with tablet users - sometimes as informally as watching over strangers shoulders while they use their device (I do this too - it works great.)

They also conducted rounds of user testing. They found that the interface was so new for people that it took time for people to get used to it. But once they did, the feedback has been positive.

This comment reminded me of a great article by Bill Buxton and Saul Greenberg called "Usability Evaluation Considered Harmful (Some of the Time) ", which I mentioned.

In the article, Buxton and Greenberg caution that when innovations are really new users may need time to learn, adapt, or become comfortable with the changes. Rigidly following the outcomes of user testing can result in killing new interfaces and quashing innovation. Buxton and Greenberg offer this caveat against this:
How can we create what could become culturally significant systems if we demand that the system be validated before a culture is formed around it?
The rest of the article is well worth reading for any company or developer trying something new.

I was greatly impressed at how Tapestries is doing something new and different. I don't have an e-reader (when I get a device I need one that is optimized for data entry as much as consumption) but it made me want to get one. Nonetheless, much of what Wu pointed out applies not only to tablets but to anyone designing or developing for smartphones or even desktops.

I'm looking forward to more such innovations from Kobo and I truly hope that their Japanese owners keep such an innovative team in Canada.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

I'm Not Falling For Tumblr

As I mentioned in my prior post today, I'm starting a blog for my postcard collection. I find Blogger a bit tired, so I've been trying out a few blogging platforms.

I decided to try Tumblr as it has generated so much hype and promises to be well-suited to blogging predominantly visual content and multimedia. So I gave it a try - check out the first incarnation of my postcard blog, The Deltiology Deity.

Screenshot of my new blog on Tumblr

Appeal of Tumblr:
Tumblr meets my criteria of being quick and easy to use and has visually appealing templates.

In theory, Tumblr integrates really well into Facebook via its own app. So posting on Tumblr should automatically post to Facebook (but it doesn't seem to completely work).

I do like how if one tags content, it adds it to other people's posts on that.

Having only used Tumblr for a few days, I have not fallen in love with it. Quite the contrary. Here's why I think our relationship will likely be short-lived:

Dislike about Tumblr:
  1. Navigation is way too difficult.  It takes way too many steps to get to the dashboard of the blog, change settings, edit posts, or even access or view the blog.
  2. The search feature only searches tags, not the actual blog post body text (but the search box does not indicate this).
  3. Facebook integration seems sketchy (I'm not sure if this is Tumblr or FB's fault), my initial blog post published on my Facebook page but it was buried under content that was posted way earlier than it. My second Tumblr post hasn't appeared on Facebook at all. My subsequent Tumblr post was not picked up by Facebook still after 2 days.
  4. Although there is great support for RSS, Tumblr doesn't offer the option for readers to receive posts via email.
  5. I can't find an easy way to embedded alt text into images (other than through direct HTML editting) - this is bad web accessibility support.
  6. The editing interface offers various options for posting different types of content (e.g. text, photo, video, etc.) but I'd rather have one method as once one has committed to a style it is impossible to switch, so I am unable to get a title on my posts, for example.
  7. I can't find a way to have my archive of posts appear in a sidenav as a list or too display my tags on a sidenav.
  8. No widgets or extra functionality.  It's rather bare-bones.  Almost all the content on the right-hand side of this blog appears to not be available when using Tumblr (or certainly not easily facilitated) such as links to profiles, Creative Commons statements, etc.
  9. Tumblr is a social network as much as a blogging tool.  This might be great for some, but I have way too many online social network sites I used already and am not looking for more. So I'd like these features either gone or de-emphasized.
  10. Too difficult/impossible to customize template functionality. 
  11. I want to be able to geocode specific pieces of content and have it appear on a map (similar to functionality Blogger offers).
Overall, Tumblr just doesn't offer as much as other blogging platforms - it's bare bones for sure.  And what they do offer is buggy or not user-friendly.

Too me, Tumblr seems geared to people who want a really quick and easy way to share content - not die-hard bloggers.  It is also geared at social networking and I've got a major case of social network fatigue.

So the hunt for an ideal blogging platform goes on...  Any ideas?

What's the Best Blogging Platform for My New Blog?

Image of an ostrich, with caption that says The name's Ostrich!
Greetings from Oudtshoorn, South Africa
I started a new blog recently to showcase my postcard collection. I have been using Blogger (owned by Google) since September 2006 when I started this blog and I have also used other blogging platforms. But I haven't had the opportunity to really try some of the newer, hyped blogging platforms such as WordPress and Tumblr. Also, I have grown frustrated with Blogger and it's lack of visually appealing templates, its lack of innovative features, and its inability to be automatically imported into Facebook (I used to have this functionality, but Facebook took it away).  Blogger also has trouble formatting paragraph breaks and  blank spaces, when copying and pasting from other sources.

WordPress seems like the ideal solution for having full control of the design and features of a blog, but I wanted something really quick and easy to use. Also as the focus of my postcard blog is the visuals of the postcard, I wanted a design for my blog that was optimal for presenting visual content. I tried Tumblr and have not been impressed at all (I'll blog about my problems with Tumblr shortly) although it is really easy to use.

Before giving up on Blogger, I gave it one more try as it integrates really well with another Google product, Picasa. I've been using Picasa to polish my postcard images to make them suitable for publishing online. Picasa enables push-button publishing to Blogger, which would be good if it works.

A note on Picasa - although it does offer basic photo editing such as brightness, contrast, cropping, and special effects  - it doesn't have the ability to paint or fix dust/scatches on images as I need.)

I tried four times to use Picasa's publish to Blogger feature to work and it failed to post and lost all my work.

If the feature did work, there are still problems. For one, the blogging window that it opened doesn't have the full Blogger functionalities. So I can't time the post or add tags. It also doesn't seems to have the full formatting options either. And it only lets me post one image per post, which doesn't work for postcards as I'd like to post the front and back images. Finally, the geotag feature on Picasa, which seems promising appears to do nothing when published on Blogger - a great opportunity misssed.

So I'm not sold on Blogger or Tumblr. Does anyone else have any ideas on what an optimal blogging platform would be for me?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Dealing with Bell Canada is Like Having Broken Glass Ground Into My Eyes

I notice that Bell's Internet television service is advertised more and my blog post on it gets a fair amount of traffic.  We've had Bell Fibe service for over two years now.  In addition, we have our Internet, home telephone, and voicemail services.  I used to also have my mobile device plan with them, but left them as soon as my contract was up due to the inflexibility of their plans, their highest in Toronto (if not all of Canada) rates, and their poor customer loyalty rewards.

Having been a Bell customer for years, I have dealt with their customer many times.  For years my dealings with them were fine.  I had heard that their customer service was poor, but had not encountered. I even participated in a focus group for Bell and was the only person in the panel that didn't end up using the session to gripe about the Bell's many service crimes.

It was only once we got Bell Fibe, however, that my dealings with Bell's customer service were so horrible that indeed dealing with them is like having broken glass ground into one's eye balls.

My prior blog post on Bell's Fibe TV covered how they fraudulently promised me one price for two years and then failed to honour that agreement.  In my experience with Bell, they never put their pricing promises in writing, so even though I had notes on their promises they refused to honour them.  They did, however, offer me a new (much less good) deal, so I stuck with Bell.

I also had problems with the Bell Fibe remote which has never worked properly. After 3 calls to customer service to try and get it working and no resolution, I finally gave up on this comparatively minor issue.

But my dealings over the past few months are so horrible that I truly believe there couldn't possibly be a company with worst customer service in Canada than Bell.

When we moved homes recently, we simply wanted to transfer our services from one place to the next.  I've done this in the past and I'm sure Bell must encounter this daily, yet it seemed just too much for Bell.

I'll shorten the epic horrible saga of my Bell woes. Granted, our home had some
unique challenges (as every home must) but really nothing that should have provoked such an ordeal.

To condense the problems, we had to have Bell crews come to our house four or five times. In almost every case, they didn't come at the time they said they would (earlier or later) even though they give themselves a big hours-long window.  Almost every technician had something different to say and none of them followed up on their promises to connect our service.

So this required me to call endless times to try and get our service up. I had to call at least 1-3 times every single day for 2 straight weeks.  Each call took anywhere from half and hour to 3 hours.

Almost every single would be transferred.  Every time a call was transferred, the person transferring me would not inform the person whom I was being transferred to of my situation, so I would have to repeat my story.  Apparently, Bell is not capable with all their apparent technology and significant employees numbers, to able customer information into a computer file either as every other company in most of the Western world has been able to do for about 30 years now.

Also Bell, once a leader in telephone services, seems to not be able to put people on hold or transfer calls without disconnecting. It happened so many times that Bell's customer service agents would hang up on me that I made the agents promise me that they wouldn't do this again.  Another promise, of many, that Bell didn't keep.

Considering that vast amount of time it takes to get a hold of anyone that has a remote clue on what to do, getting disconnected is not only incredibly rude but wastes even more of my time.  But truly, unless they were hanging up on me on purpose rather than dealing with my case (a distinct possibly) it means that Bell hasn't perfected the technology handling telephone calls.  Rather unbelievable but from my experience a daily occurrence.

Escalating problems to managers did no better.  Although they would claim to solve my problem and to follow-up on my behalf - they dropped the ball just as much as their call-centre employees. They were just more conciliatory in tone.

After an incredible amount of frustration, we finally got one very-nice and intelligent service agent that solved most of our problems rather quickly.  We also got a manager that did give us a small rebate as a gesture of their many errors.

The Bell Fibe service, although expensive, is rather good.  It does can out for hours at a time every couple months or so. But otherwise, it is a cool service.

Considering the living hell Bell put me through over months (and this is a condensed account) however, I can't wait to switch to another service. But I have heard that the only alternative available, Rogers, isn't much better.

I'd love to hear from anyone that has advice on television, Internet, and home telephone service that offers comparable products and at least slightly less horrendous and disdainful customer service...

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Mobile Web and Everyday Life

My kid was away this weekend on a winter camp-out with her Brownie troop, so my wife and I used the opportunity to have some grown-up fun while she was away. So we invited friends over for dinner and planned a meal that was decidedly not kid-friendly (i.e. no grilled cheese).

I've had a smartphone for a few years now and used apps and the browser to access information before.  Normally, I use it for getting directions and contact info, weather, restaurant reviews, movie listings, news, or checking out my social networks via Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare.

But this weekend, I used my mobile device in some new ways for me and I was struck by how much having ready access to a wealth of information is improving the run-of-the-mill tasks of everyday life.  

First, while enjoying our kid-free weekend and having a leisurely visit to a cafe and planning the grown-up menu for our friends upcoming visit, we used my mobile device to find a recipe for good and easy margaritas.

Then we found the nearest LCBO and grocery store on my device to pick up the ingredients.

While at the grocery store, I used my mobile device to convert recipes my wife had in imperial units to metric.  Google's voice commands made this really easy to do (as I could never do such conversion in my head).

Finally, at the grocery store, as were planning a Mexican meal and were curious about a variety of unfamiliar peppers the grocery store had. We wanted a little spiciness (not having to worry about the kid and all) but weren't looking for peppers that would have us in an emergency room.  So I googled the names of the peppers, found out their heat factor on the Scoville scale and what type of dishes they were best for.  Assured that we weren't going to be causing irreparable harm to our internal parts, we ventured out and tried new peppers.

These changes can be banal or momentous, but there is no doubt that the access to information that mobile devices and the Internet are profoundly changing the functions of everyday life.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Milestones in the History of Geo-Locative Services

I've been recently researching the history of location-based services (LBS) and locative media. I previously blogged about the definition, terminology, forms, and examples of these, but I have not examined their origins.

As with much of digital media, it is surprising how poorly this history is documented. Wikipedia remains the best, and frequently the only, source of historical information, but at times it makes contradictory or unsupported claims (such as "the first X"). I tried to find at least a couple sources for the history below.

Below, I compiled a list of key milestones in the innovations that made consumer locative media and LBS possible. The focus is on consumer applications, particularly ones related to place or geo-targetted information.

Essentially, five streams of innovation needed to come together to make geo-locative services possible:
  1. Geo-positioning technology
  2. Internet
  3. Mobile communications and computing
  4. Digital mapping and geocontent
  5. Graphical interface and interaction design
In compiling this list, I was surprised at the degree to which innovations arose from around the world. I've included the countries of origins, but if not stated it is the U.S.

I don't go back to the invention of the map, telephone, or the concept of the computer, but pick it up as the technologies begin to converge...
  • 1940 to 1980: Computers introduced and gradually became smaller, smarter, faster, cheaper and easy to use - leading to the personal computer revolution of 1980s (Computer History Museum)
  • 1950 to 1960: augmented reality (Wikipedia) and RFID technology begun (Landt)
  • 1960: Canadian government in Ottawa developed first operational computer Geographic Information System (Wikipedia)
  • 1965 to 1968: Douglas Engelbart at Stanford Research Institute develops and presents the first working computer with graphical user interface elements (Britannica & Utah State U.)
  • 1969: ARPAnet launched, first multiple site computer network, precursor to Internet (Webopedia)
  • 1970 to 1980s:  Touchscreen devices developed & perfected (Bill Buxton)
  • April 3, 1973: Motorola executive made first ever cell-phone call (to competitor Bell Labs) (CNN)
  • February 22, 1978: First GPS (Navstar) satellite launched, owned, and operated only for U.S. military; 24 satellites would be launched before network completed in 1993 (Wikipedia)
  • 1980 to 1990: RFID became commercially mainstream (Landt)
  • 1981 to 1984: First laptop and tablet computers launched (Wikipedia)
  • 1984: Apple's Macintosh personal computer first affordable computer with graphical user interface; it sells very well and convinces people of merits of GUI (Britannica
  • 1986: One of first wireless data technologies launched by Sweden's Ericsson(Wireless Week)
  • 1988: Canadian company, BlackBerry (formerly Research in Motion), was first North American company to develop wireless data technology (CBC)
  • 1989: World's first commercial, handheld GPS receiver, Magellan's NAV 1000, released (Time)
  • Christmas 1990: Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau brought World Wide Web to life from CERN, Switzerland (Scientific American)
  • 1991: Internet (then in form of NSFNET) made available for commercial use (Computer History Museum)
  • June 1993: One of first online, static maps launched by Xerox PARC (Wikipedia)
  • 1994: Bluetooth, international standard for short-distance wireless data transmission, invented by Ericsson (Mashable)
  • August 16, 1994: IBM & BellSouth released world's first smartphone and first phone with a touchscreen, Simon Personal Communicator; it had cellphone, calendar, note pad, game, etc. and optional memory card for maps, camera, music (although it wasn't called smartphone as term not used until 1997 with Ericsson's GS 88 Penelope) (Wikipedia & Bloomberg)
  • 1995: First built-in GPS device, GuideStar, offerred in production vehicle, GM's Oldsmobile Eighty Eight (PCMag)
  • 1996: U.S. Federal Communication Commission requires all cellphones to pinpoint users for emergency response, drastically increasing ubiquity of locative technology
  • February 5, 1996: First consumer-focused online, interactive map launched by MapQuest (AOL & About.com)
  • 1997: Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers published WiFi standard; companies soon launched WiFi enabled products (Economist)
  • July 1997 - U.K.'s Trafficmaster released world's first live traffic information available via GSM cellphone (using own positioning method, not GPS); as first killer app of telematic devices it drove demand (Trafficmaster & Communications Today)
  • 1998: Standards published to enable mobile Internet browsing, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) (eHow); in 2000 I developed one of Canada's first WAP sites for movie listings & reviews
  • 1999: Headmap Manifesto published by Ben Russelll; it presented influential vision of ubiquitous & locative technology (Technoccult)
  • 1999: Weather Channel launched possibly first platform-independent consumer LBS; in Jan. 2013 their app surpassed 100 million downloads (Weather Channel)
  • February 22, 1999: Japan's answer to WAP released, i-mode gained international popularity, but now only used in parts of Asia (Telegraph)
  • May 1999: Palm VII released in U.S. and has LBS capability via zip codes positioning (Navipedia)
  • June 1999: World's first cellphone with GPS functionality when Japan's Seiko Epson introduced 290g Locatio, also possibly world's first LBS as included locative mapping & wayfinding, geo-targetted weather forecasts, and proximal restaurants, hotels, & points of interest (Time/CNN)
  • October 1999: Europe's first phone with GPS and likely first ever proximal "friend finder" feature when Finnish company Benefon released “Esc!”(Global Positioning & Navigation News, 1999, vol. 9, iss. 1)
  • Late 1999: After innovations in paging technology, BlackBerry released BlackBerry 850 Wireless Handheld; the widely-successful "Crackberry" combined e-mail, organizing features, wireless data network, & QWERTY keyboard (a rarity) (CBC)
  • 2000: Dodgeball launched, early geo-social service and arguably first to reach large scale popularity, users texted their location to discover nearby friends & venues (Wikipedia)
  • May 2, 2000: American government allowed everyone complete, precise access to GPS service
  • May 3, 2000: First geocache hidden, in wilderness of Oregon by Dave Ulmer who then invited people online to find it via GPS devices (Geocaching.com)
  • October 2000: Nokia, Motorola, & Ericsson founded "Location Interoperability Forum" to spur development of LBS (Global Positioning & Navigation News, vol 10, 20 & 22 )
  • 2001: First cellphone with GPS in U.S. released, Samsung's SPH N300 in Rhode Island (Wireless Insider, vol. 2, iss. 38)
  • November 1, 2001: "Can You See Me Now," a mixed/alternative reality game first played in Sheffield, UK - one of first such games to use online location tracking (Blast Theory)
  • 2002: Dutch company TomTom released their first navigation product for PDAs; Navigator was one of first affordable portable (and suitable for in-car) GPS devices (TomTom)
  • June 2002: One billion mobile phone users worldwide (eMarketer)
  • June 2002: 200 companies joined to form "Open Mobile Alliance" to consolidate standards for mobile development (OMA)
  • August 2002: Wherify Wireless made children's watches with GPS for parent to track kids (BBC)
  • Fall 2002: First doctoral dissertation about LBS published in ProQuest (leading dissertation publisher), "Discovery and adaptation for LBS" by Todd Hodes, Berkeley, Computer Science
  • 2003: One of the first locative history projects; launched in Toronto [murmur] collected oral histories of places and via unique phone numbers & plaques, people could use mobiles to hear stories of place in situ, project spread across Canada, Ireland, Australia, Scotland, U.S. & Brazil (murmur)
  • 2003: Japanese first to use smartphones to scan QR codes to receive online content; QR codes were invented for Japanese auto industry in 1994 (Wikipeida)
  • July 2003: Locative media term coined by Karlis Kalnins for Latvian workshop (Leonardo)
  • June 2004: One of first locative art projects presented; Christian Nold's London UK based project Bio Mapping used galvanic skin response & GPS to map people's emotional response to specific locations (Observer)
  • July 2004: I Love Bees, one of most popular, early alternative reality games with locative elements (e.g. GPS) begun (Wikipedia)
  • August 9, 2004: OpenStreetMap, open-source global online mapping project started in U.K. (OpenStreetMap)
  • August 16, 2004: Plazes released, German company pioneered and popularized geo-social networking (Wikipedia)
  • April 8, 2005: HousingMaps.com launched, first Google Map mash-up (before their API released) using Craigslist housing listings; it allowed people to search for housing via online map (Programmable Web)
  • May 2005: Chicagocrime.org launched, crime data mash-up with Google Maps (Holovaty)
  • June 29, 2005: Where Conference (formerly "Where 2.0") convened, arguably leading conference in this sector (though SXSW is close)
  • June 28, 2005: Google released Google Earth, enabled widespread access to satellite imagery (Google)
  • June 29, 2005: Google released API for Google Maps, spurred innovative online map mash-ups (Google)
  • November 2005: Google released Maps for Mobile (Google)
  • November 2005: Wikipedia page created for locative media
  • Late 2005: GeoNames.org launched; a wiki gazetteer based in Switzerland with over 10 million place names in database - this leading source of free geocoded data enables many geo-services
  • 2006: Labs set up to examine mobile and locative technologies through art and research (both called "Mobile Experience Lab" and both appear to have started in 2006) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ontario College of Art and Design University
  • Feburary 2006: Finnish company, Nokia, first company to offer Near Field Communications capable mobile, 6131 (NearFieldCommunication.org)
  • May 18, 2007: Russia made its satellite navigation system, GLONASS, freely available; launched in 1970s for military use, it's only alternative to GPS - until Europeans complete Galileo in 2019 (Wikipedia)
  • June 1, 2007: Busted by LBS - Plazes CEO, Felix Petersen, called in sick to one conference then checked-in on to another on his geosocial app, but got caught (TechCrunch)
  • June 29, 2007: Many Asian smartphones already had built-in accelerometers for positioning & navigation, but iPhone introduced it to Western users (CNET)
  • September 25, 2007: First issue of Journal of Location Based Services
  • August 2, 2007: Vancouver based SciFi author William Gibson wrote "Spook Country" featuring locative art prominently (Boston Globe)
  • December 2007: Dopplr launched and pioneered social navigation and geosocial networking; based in UK & Finland, it was bought by Nokia to wither (Guardian)
  • January 2008: Kenya's post-election violence prompted volunteers to map reports of violence received via mobile users, later they created Ushahidi, open-source platform for similar crisis mapping (Ushahidi)
  • 2008: First doctoral dissertation on locative media published in ProQuest, "A brief history of the future of urban computing and locative media" by Anne Galloway, Carleton University, Ottawa
  • July 10, 2008: Apple launched App Store to promote apps; although first for mobile apps and they revolutionized app distribution, the app directory concept existed years before, such as Toronto-based Tucows' listings of freeware/shareware launched in 1993 (Wikipedia)
  • September 23, 2008: Webby awards announced new category for "best use of GPS or location technology"; first awarded to Adidas Marathon Run Tracker and People's Voice award to Palringo Local (Webby)
  • August 28, 2008: Flickr introduced ability to geocode photos by placing them on a map, combined with reading geocodes automatically taken by mobile device cameras; within 1 day over a million photos are geocoded, eventually leading Flickr (founded in Canada) to become one of largest sources of georeferenced content (Flickr)
  • March 14, 2009: Foursquare launched at SXSW conference, resulting hype helped it become arguably most popular LBS (PC Mag)
  • June 19, 2009: Augmented reality browser, Layar, launched and freely available, popularizing A.R. apps (TechCrunch & Layar)
  • End of 2009: Locative apps gained ubiquity as five of top ten apps in Germany, U.K., and France centered on location or navigation (Navipedia)
  • 2010: Proclaimed "year of location" after high-profile launch & popularity of many LBS
  • January 12, 2010: Earthquake in Haiti, triggered global efforts to map problem areas via web-platform Ushahidi and SMS updates from Haitians, resulting crisis-map aids relief workers and demonstrated potential of such technology (National Geographic)
  • February 2010: Privacy concerns of public check-ins brought to attention with launch of Dutch website, Please Rob Me; it scrubs Foursquare & Twitter to determine empty houses (Telegraph)
  • April 3, 2010: Tablets finally caught on with the release of Apple's iPad (TechRadar)
  • June 4, 2010: China banned Foursquare after virtual Tiananmen Square protests (Telegraph)
  • June 24, 2010: Gyroscopes to orient devices were common in consumer electronics (e.g., Wii) and digital cameras, but it was Apple iPhone 4 to include in mobiles and soon all mobiles had them (EETimes)
  • July 2010: Having installed Fourquare a month prior, I received notice of nearby special supposedly of interest to me, for a plus-sized women's clothing store (I'm not a plus-sized woman); location-based advertising has a long way to go - Luckily, a fellow Torontonian founded Location Based Marketing Association shortly thereafter
  • December 2010: "Mother of all geofencing pattents" awarded to Where after applying for it in 2005. Geofences are gaining popularity for geo-targetted marketing campaigns, child and friend tracking, and proximal alerts. (TechCrunch)
  • January 2011: 41% of Canadian smartphone owners had a Blackberry (Ipsos)
  • May 2011: X-Men First Class film promoted with "smart posters" that once tapped with a suitable mobile device activate online content; first U.K. marketing campaign to use this tech (Proxama)
  • November 2011: Google released indoor maps for mobiles (Google)
  • January 2012: 34% of Canadians owned a smartphone (33% are Blackberries, 28% Apple, 31% Android); 10% owned a tablet (Ipsos)
  • February 2012: 74% of US smartphone owners accessed location-based info (Pew)
  • May 2012: Groupon launched LBS for users to see nearby deals (PCMag)
  • Spring 2012: Canadians spent 2.8 hours per day on smartphones, 2.4 hours on tablets (Ipsos)
  • April 2012: 55% of US adults accessed Internet on mobile; almost double from 2009 (Pew)
  • June 2012: Foursquare had 2 billion check-ins and 20 million users (CNET)
  • August 2012: Indoor positioning = last holy grail. Nokia, Samsung, & Sony joined forces to make indoor locative technology a reality through their In-Location Alliance (Computer World)
  • August 13, 2012: Google bought travel publisher Frommers for $25 million, having previously bought restaurant reviewer Zagat in 2011 (Forbes)
  • December 2012: 87% of U.S. adults had cellphone, 45% had smartphone (Pew)
  • February 2012: China had one billion mobile users, first country to reach this level (Forbes)
  • March 15, 2012: In-car GPS device instructed Glen Farrelly to drive onto non-existent road and into active volcano in Hawaii; Glen used own judgement & survived (unlike others)
  • September 2012: One billion smartphones used globally (Bloomberg)
  • January 2013: 31% of US adults owned a tablet (Pew)
  • February 1, 2013: Mobile app Path fined $800,000 for privacy violations; it was also found that Path shared users' locations even when users opted out of this (NY Times)
  • February 3, 2013: After waiting a few weeks for my invitation to Ingress, Google's new location-based game for mobiles, I finally got in. A scifi narrative encouraged people to explore their world and join a global fight, using app's locative interface. (TechCrunch) Hyped as first game with potential to make location-based games (aka alternative reality) mainstream.
  • February 11, 2013: For the first time in Canada, I noticed a "smart poster" - for a Toronto production of The Wizard of Oz. I tapped my Nexus smartphone to the poster and instantly got ta page for ticket info. Although, this technology worked much more quickly and easily than scanning a QR code, the resulting page I received was generic and boring - demonstrating that even if the tech functions the campaign strategy and content execution must also work.

This list is a simplified account and is by no means definitive. And, considering how poorly documented the history of this sector is, some of these details cannot be considered infallible.

All this considered, I could really use some help verifying, correcting, and expanding this list - so please leave any suggestions below.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Measuring Sense of Place

I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to determine what exactly is sense of place and how one might be able to determine if technology can indeed impact it. There have been several people looking into this but often I found they were either studying something else - such as sense of community or place attachment - or had instruments that weren't transferable to other studies. Then I found a study by Suzanne Bott called appropriately enough "The development of psychometric scales to measure sense of place" that was the only suitable method I encountered to measure sense of place.

As I won't be using this research now, I thought it might be useful to share for anyone else considering such a study (and let me know if you are).

One of the most cited scholars for measuring sense of place (SOP) is Stedman; he attempted to resolve the difficulty of measuring SOP on his own (2003) and with Jorgensen (2001). Stedman proposed scales to measure related place concepts such as attitude towards a place and place satisfaction, similar to product satisfaction, as measurable proxies for SOP. This work, however, divorces studies of place from the realm of meaning and instead offers a utilitarian view of place, which is not transferable to all experiences of place.

With the goal of being able to quantify degrees of SOP, Shamai (1991) formulated a scale ranging from no SOP, knowledge of being located in a place, feeling of belonging to place, attachment to place, identification with place, involvement in preserving or shaping place, to sacrificing for place. Although Shamai’s continuum of SOP degrees is useful, his questionnaire to measure this was designed for a particular location (i.e., a religious school) and is therefore not transferable to other study sites.

To date, Bott (2000) appears to be the only work that offers a quantitative tool to measure the multiple dimensions of SOP. Through focus groups and expert panels, Bott developed 15 scales comprising 90 individual questionnaire items to measure independently the dimensions of SOP, such as sociocultural, environment, existential, aesthetic, and functional.

Bott groups her SOP scales under four overarching “domains”: physical setting, cultural, affective (Bott uses the term affective to refer to the effects a place produces, not limited to emotional responses), and functional. The table below shows the domains, scales, and items she developed and validated to measure SOP.  Each questionnaire item is measured by a seven-point Likert scale.


Natural Setting Domain
Natural Setting Scale
[5 items]
natural, sunny, has good lighting, has a good amount of trees
Built Environment Scale [3 items] made of materials which are appropriate in color, made of materials which fit the setting, has attractive buildings
Character Scale
[10 items]
clean, alive, peaceful, distinctive, harmonious, balanced, well-maintained, simple, spacious, open
Cultural Setting Domain
Inherent Sociocultural Scale [6 items] historic, authentic, has a spirit of the people, fits within the larger context of [specific place], supports the activities of [specific place], feel a sense of history
Transactional Sociocultural Scale
[7 items]
offers a sense of belonging, provides opportunities for interaction with others, offers civility, generates respect for the individual, has a distinct energy, feel a part of the community, feel a sense of belonging
Affective Individual / Personal Domain
Significance Scale
[4 items]
meaningful, significant, interesting, valuable
Existential Scale
[4 items]
feel a sense of connection, feel a sense of my own identity, feel a sense of attachment, feel a sense of ownership
Memory Scale
[6 items]
familiar, well-known, memorable, feel a sense of connection, feel like I know it well, feel a sense of nostalgia
Aesthetic Scale
[6 items]
beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, pleasing to look at, generates a positive sensory experience, feel a sense of awe, feel a sense of appreciation
Transcendental Scale
[10 items]
inspirational, magical, sacred, spirit of place, feel alive, feel inspired, feel connected to higher power, feel fulfilled, feel sense of romance, feel strong emotions
Functional Individual / Personal Domain
Purposive Scale
[2 items]
meets my expectations of [specific place] setting, supports my role at [specific place]
Informational Scale
[6 items]
understandable, provides a sense of direction, has distinct landmarks, is easy for me to find my way around in, makes way-finding seem intuitive, provides info
Prospect Scale
[4 items]
feel like there are opportunities here for me, feel like exploring, feel like I have options, feel a sense of mystery
Refuge Scale
[4 items]
non-threatening, has obvious boundaries, offers shelter, feel a sense of refuge
Well-being Scale
[12 items]
safe, comfortable, warm, serene, reassuring, revitalizing, feel in control, feel peaceful, feel comfortable, feel calm, feel a sense of comfort, feel serene

(table adapted from Bott, 2000, pp.57-58)


Bott, S. E. (2000). The development of psychometric scales to measure sense of place (Doctoral dissertation). Colorado State U., Fort Collins, CO.

Jorgenson, B., & Stedman, R. (2001). Sense of place as an attitude: Lakeshore owners’ attitudes toward their properties. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 21(3), 233–248.

Shamai, S. (1991). Sense of place: An empirical measurement. Geoforum, 22(3), 347–358.

Stedman, R. (2002). Toward a social psychology of place. Environment and Behavior, 34(5), 561–581.

Stedman, R. (2003). Sense of place and forest science: Toward a program of quantitative research. Forest Science, 49(6), 822–829.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Power of Online Social Mapping

I attended a talk yesterday that presented an inspirational model for the power of online mapping, social media, and mobile communications (much of the stuff I'm researching!).

Rebecca Chiao co-founder of HarassMap, an online sexual harassment service started in Egypt in 2010, spoke at University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs. I was struck how Rebecca provided a case for how average people can use existing, free online services to improve people's quality of life and provoke social change.

Rebecca provided the background for the origins and need for HarassMap. Over the past ten years approximately, sexual assaults and harassment of women have been growing in Egypt and social norms have become more tolerant of this.

The project is crowd-sourced and uses the open-source software Ushahidi. Here is how it works:
  1. If a person is harassed or witnesses one they can submit a report to HarassMap via their website, email, text message, or Twitter.
  2. A staff member reviews reports for veracity and specificity (i.e., a specific incident with a date and location details). People can include photos or names, although most do not.
  3. The names and identifying details of reporters and victims are removed and the report is published anonymously on the web.
  4. An online map pinpoints areas where reports have been received.
The next step is where I think the project is extraordinarily inspirational.

Using the reports collected and organized by neighbourhood, the staff of HarassMap mobilizes volunteers (men and women) to go to the worst areas and talk to the community. The map and reports provide proof of the problem. Rebecca noted that many people would previously dissmiss the problem as either not occurring in their neighbourhood or happening to only women who were not "properly" dressed. The reports and maps provide concrete evidence to community members that it is indeed happening.

For instance, the reports and another study Rebecca conducted show that most of the harassment happens to women who are veiled, despite common perceptions otherwise. Volunteers work to dispel the myths and work with people to not only change their attitudes but also provide advice on how to stop it. They are also working with vendors to launch a network of stores that are safe and will not tolerate harassment.

Since starting the project, 19 other countries have contacted the Egyptian office to start a similar service. Several countries have already launched their services and one for Canada is in the works.

I asked Rebecca about the possibility of a smartphone app using this data and whether people could use such data to learn and avoid the problem areas. Rebecca mentioned that smartphone adoption has been growing very rapidly recently in Egypt and that they are pursuing a smartphone app.

However, Rebecca cautioned that they don't want people to use their service to avoid areas (as their reports are not representative of all harassment that happens in an area ) but instead should be used to show people where safer zones and partner vendors are.

Originally funded entirely by volunteers, the project recently received funding from Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

IDRC also spoke about how projects like this can not only aid and empower people, but provide a useful research mechanism (as indicated in intro for the talk):
Such empowering technologies could overcome many of the barriers to data collection in certain countries: the reluctance of women to report or discuss such crimes; a lack of resources for data collection; and bureaucratic procedures for conducting large-scale and/or sensitive research.
Although I hadn't considered such social media and participatory mapping projects as a means of social research,  Rebecca mentioned how they have uncovered information that would not otherwise be possible considering Egypt's political climate and sensitivity of the topic. She mentioned, for example, how they were surprised at the extent of incidents of harassment against boys and men that came in anonymously.

For more information on this innovative and inspirational work, check out the project's coverage in Vancouver's Straight.com.